The exact long-term effects of the sledgehammer blow that hit the U.S. beef industry less than two months ago are hard to fathom at this point. But the industry has been buoyed by the short-term response of U.S. consumers to the Dec. 23 announcement by USDA that a Holstein cow had been found infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington state.

Early reports from the major retail chains in mid January indicate Americans are still eating beef in a big way. And judging from the reader survey shown below that was conducted one week after the BSE announcement, beef producers on the whole haven't lost their optimism, either.

The most troublesome aspect of the BSE announcement up to this point has been the loss of more than 90% of the export markets for U.S. beef. While domestic beef consumption seemingly hadn't been affected at press time, major packers were reporting worker layoffs in response to the loss of export markets.

U.S. government and industry officials are hard at work to reopen the closed export markets. It's a task seemingly aided in early January when DNA testing confirmed the infected animal was of Canadian origin.

On Jan. 15, Japanese officials indicated that an early lifting of the ban on U.S. beef exports to that country, the largest U.S. export customer, was “desirable.” For that eventuality, however, Japan may require that every head harvested in the U.S. be tested for BSE, as is the case in Japan.

Meanwhile, beef production, management and marketing have changed basically overnight in the aftermath of the first U.S. case of BSE.

Non-ambulatory, or “downer” cattle, are not longer marketable or legal for use in the human food chain. And a national animal identification system is on the fast track to aid in detecting and tracing animal disease problems. For a complete list and discussion of the changes, go to www.bseinfo.org or www.usda.gov/BSE/.

The following 16 pages of this issue are dedicated to the BSE issue. In addition, you'll find more special BSE coverage not included in this issue at www.beef-mag.com.